A Senate committee handily voted in favor of confirming MD Anderson’s Stephen Hahn as the next official FDA commissioner, succeeding the inimitable Scott Gottlieb. And he was whisked through the 18-5 vote on the back of some tardy praise from a host of healthcare groups — including quite a few that initially supported acting commissioner Ned Sharpless for the job.
In the end, the outcome of the vote Tuesday morning wasn’t really in question, especially considering the lukewarm opposition he faced during his job interview during the Senate hearing on the nomination.
Forty institutions — including Friends of Cancer Research, National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) and the National Patient Advocate Foundation — wrote to the HELP committee backing Hahn’s nomination.
When Sharpless was the favorite, endorsements were not in short supply. Gottlieb made it abundantly clear on Twitter that the interim chief was his pick, while other former FDA leaders and patient advocacy nonprofits — including Robert Califf and Margaret Hamburg as well as Friends of Cancer Research, the National Brain Tumor Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society — also declared their support.
Hahn currently serves as the chief medical executive of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Under his tenure, the University of Texas research and treatment facility has undergone a major restructuring to cope with the financial crisis of the last decade and Chinese staff scientists have been dismissed, at a time when the Trump administration has made its aversion to the Asian country apparent. The clinician, board-certified in radiation oncology, medical oncology, and internal medicine, has waded into the realm of controversy when the future of MD Anderson has been in question — but at his more than two-hour audition at the Senate last month, a muted Hahn showed up.
He persistently extolled the virtue of “science and data congruent with the law,” but steered clear of taking a stand on the issues that are on top of the health care agenda — from a potential ban on flavored e-cigarettes to importing drugs to address skyrocketing drug prices.